“Giant spring mosquitoes”: they are not mosquitoes and they do not bite. Truth and “mosquitoes”

Often, especially in the periods preceding the summer ones, it is easy to notice the presence of large insects that look like a cross between dragonflies and mosquitoes . Many identify these animals as large specimens of mosquitoes , consequently assuming hostile attitudes and alarming those whofindsclose to them. In reality, these animals are harmless and do not sting . To be honest, although they vaguely resemble mosquitoes (to the inexperienced eye), they are not at all related to the most well-known and most annoying insects that suck the blood of mammals.

Those often crossed in the spring months are in fact the Tipulidae or tipule (Tipulidae Latreille, 1802), a family of insects of the order of the Diptera (Nematocera: Tipulomorpha). Rather common insects, they are commonly called “zanzaroni” because they apparently resemble mosquitoes in appearance and the tipules are often mistakenly identified with the male mosquitoes. In reality, these are insects which, in addition to their larger size (2 or 3 times larger), differ markedly for many morphological characters and for the ethology; the association of the tipule to the mosquitoes is therefore completely inappropriate and due to a summary generalization by non-specialists. In particular, it should be noted that, unlike the mosquitoes, the tipules are unable to sting and the only damage that some species produce is of an economic type due to the phytophagous diet .

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The characteristic shape and considerable size make them easily recognizable. However, it should be noted that the tipulae can be easily confused with other Nematocera with a similar appearance, more or less related under the taxonomic and phylogenetic aspect, mostly belonging to the infraorders of the Tipulomorpha and Ptychopteromorpha. Overall, the term tipuloid or tipuliform aspect is used generically. Referring to the relationship between body size and development of the legs, the Anglo-Saxons and the Spanish generically indicate the insects of tipuloid appearance with the respective locutions of crane flies and moscas grúas (“crane fly”), associating them by relevance to cranes.

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The identification, under the lexical and nomenclatural point of view, between the Tipulids, the tipuloid aspect and the higher taxa which include them (superfamily Tipuloidea and infraorder Tipulomorpha ), strictly speaking, would be inappropriate, as this family is not the most representative. Although it is a family rich in species ( 5-6,000 species ), the Tipulidae are just half of a vaster and more common family, that of the Limoniidae , which includes more than 11,000 species . On the other hand, in the traditional taxonomy and, still today, among the Anglo-Saxon authors, the family of the Tipulidae is identified with an extended grouping which also includes the Limoniidaeand the other minor families of the Tipuloidea ( Cylindrotomidae and Pediciidae ). As there is not yet a consensus on the systematic subdivision of the Tipuloidea, in the literature it is often used to distinguish between Tipulidae sensu lato and Tipulidae sensu stricto , including or not also the Limoniidae , the Pediciidae and the Cylindrotomidae .

The tipules have a primitive morphology, within the context of the Diptera , presenting themselves as insects of medium or large dimensions, with a slender, narrow and elongated body, provided with thin but exceptionally long legs and large, narrow and long wings, generally transparent or marked by zonal pigmentation. The liveries are sometimes showy, but usually quite neutral colors recur, ranging from brown to reddish to yellowish to blackish. Batesian mimicry also occurs in some tipulids ( Ctenophora ), with the imitation of the appearance of Hymenoptera Icneumonids. In temperate regions, the Tipulidae generally carry out a cycle with 1-2 generations per year and with wintering in the larva stage. The flickerings take place in spring or autumn or in spring and autumn. The larvae of Tipulidae sensu stricto are mostly terricolous but associated with the presence of high humidity of the soil or growth substrate. Therefore, they populate the humid soils, the vegetable litters, the rotting wood or they behave as semi-aquatic, colonizing the soil at the margins of watercourses and ponds. The species with purely aquatic larvae are rare.

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The diet is mainly saprophagous, at the expense of organic material of vegetable origin, including wood. However, within the family there are some species, in very few proportions, whose larvae can behave as phytophagous to all intents and purposes, as in the first stages they feed on the seeds or on the seedlings in the germinating phase and subsequently on roots or any part of the aerial vegetative apparatus in contact with the ground or in the immediate vicinity. The terricolous larvae take refuge during the day in small vertical galleries formed in the soil profile (wells). During the night they emerge from the wells to feed themselves, also coming out to the surface. The behavior is singular in that, moving like worms, they grab the leaves trying to detach them or to attract them to the mouth of the tunnel. The adults are generally present in humid and cool environments, but there are also species that can also be found in more or less dry places. As in allTipuloids , their life is relatively short and focused on reproduction.

The natural antagonists are numbered above all among the Vertebrates and, in particular, the birds and Bats of the Vespertilionidae family have a leading role ; in the latter family, for example, the bats of the species Myotis mystacinus, Pipistrellus pipistrellus, Eptesicus nilssonii are active predators of tipulids . For some of these animals, the tipulae, in the adult stage or in the juvenile stage, may also constitute the main, if not exclusive, component of the diet. For example, the larvae of tipulids made available by the melting of the snows would represent the fundamental trophic resource for the rearing of the offspring of the alpine finch ( Montifringilla nivalis): more than 500 larvae are needed to support a brood of four young . In the Arthropods, the coleoptera of the families of the Carabidae and of the Staphylinidae are active , among the predators, and some diptera of the family of the Tachinidae ( Bucentes crestata, Bucentes geniculata ), among the parasitoids.

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There are about 450 species in Europe . More than 160 species belonging to the genera Ctenophora, Dictenidia, Dolichopeza, Nephrotoma, Nigrotipula, Tanyptera and Tipula are reported in Italy . However, the latter genus is the most widely represented, with over 130 species. Of particular interest is the number of endemic species, which for the Italian territory amounts to 31 species or subspecies . Among the species of greatest agricultural interest in Italy, the following are generally cited:

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Tipula oleracea . Known by the common name of “zanzarone degli orti”, it is widely distributed throughout Europe, with a greater frequency in the south. In Italy it is one of the most common and most harmful tipulids throughout the country. It completes two generations a year.
Swampy tipula . Known by the common name of “tipula dei prati”, it also has a wide distribution, but in Italy it is frequent in the northern regions. It completes one generation a year.
Italian tipula . In Italy it is present in the north, in the peninsula and in Sicily, with the subspecies italica, and only in Sardinia, with the subspecies errans. It completes one generation a year. Nephrotoma appendiculata . In Italy it is present with two subspecies: theit is present in Sardinia , the pertenua in the rest of the national territory. Unlike the previous species, it shows less polyphagia and preferentially directs its attacks on leguminous meadows. Put simply, ugly yes, but harmless . You might as well spare their lives.

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